Chilling Medical Dramas: He Took a Nail Gun to the Heart

A careless accident on the job turned into a medical nightmare.

nail in heart
Nick Veasey for Reader’s Digest

It was supposed to be an easy roofing job, but Dennis Hennis was impatient. His son, Danny, was moving too slowly. “By the time you finish, I’ll be 53,” said Dennis. It was March 2012, and he had just celebrated his 52nd birthday.

Dennis grabbed the nail gun to demonstrate how to work faster. But the tool was jammed, so Dennis attempted to fix it. He forgot one important step: Unplug the device. “For some dumb reason, I turned that thing toward me, and all I heard was a thud in my chest,” says Dennis, of Vineland, New Jersey. “I knew it was in my heart. I said, ‘Danny, I’m going to light this cigarette. This will be my last one.’ ”

When the ambulance arrived, Dennis was holding the 3 ¼-inch nail in place with one hand and a cigarette in the other. His first instinct had been to pull out the nail, but he stopped himself. As a general contractor familiar with plumbing, he knew that the nail was the only thing preventing him from bleeding to death.

Unfortunately, the closest Level 1 trauma center was 34 miles away, and helicopters were grounded because of thick fog. He would have to go by ambulance. When Dennis’s heart stopped en route, the medics had to make a tough call: Dennis needed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), but the chest compressions would make the nail gun injury worse and might even kill him. Without the CPR, he would definitely die. The medics started CPR as the ambulance changed course and sped toward the nearest hospital. Then, in a stroke of good luck, the fog lifted enough for a helicopter to fly.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Michael Rosenbloom, MD, was ready. But after he opened Dennis’s chest, removed the nail, and sewed up the hole with a few stitches, Dennis unexpectedly went into cardiac arrest. “We tried shocking the heart with paddles, but it was clear after a couple of shocks that he wasn’t going to come back readily,” says Dr. Rosenbloom.

Because they were still in an operating room with a heart-lung machine, the doctors quickly used the device to circulate Dennis’s blood and stabilize his heart rhythm. 
After about 45 minutes, “everything was back where we wanted it,” says Dr. Rosenbloom, “and we could close him up and move him to recovery.”

As he healed, Dennis mulled over just how lucky he was. His hospital room hosted a parade of family members he hadn’t seen in years—from a cousin who was a beloved childhood friend to half-siblings with whom he’d lost touch. “If I were in a casket in a funeral home, I wouldn’t have known they loved me that much,” says Dennis. “I got shot in the heart and then flooded with love.”

5 of the Most Chilling Medical Dramas Ever:

He Took a Nail Gun to The Heart

She Lost 540 Pints of Blood

The Mystery of the Boy Who Turned Blue

The Dinner That Almost Killed Her

“I Saw Forceps Sticking Out of My Leg”

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

how we use your e-mail

Some people like to travel by train because 
it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of 
an airplane.

Dennis Miller

I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”

Kevin Nealon

“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” 
—Everyone following you on Instagram


A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.

Comedian Greg Davies

Funny Jokes

Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.


Funny Jokes

Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.


Funny Jokes

My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me 
everything you know.”


Funny Jokes

“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” 

@yoyoha (Josh Hara)

Funny Jokes

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Funny Jokes

Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?

A: A mechanic.